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China set to mine central Indian Ocean,Delhi worried

China’s application for deep-sea mining licence in central Indian Ocean has been cleared.

China’s application for deep-sea mining licence in central Indian Ocean has been cleared by an international body,leaving the Ministries of Defence and External Affairs concerned. They fear Beijing may use it as “an excuse to operate their warships in this area”.

It was on July 19 that the International Seabed Authority cleared China’s request for exploration and mining licences in Southwestern Indian Ridge.

The Directorate of Naval Intelligence (DNI) has warned that this could have critical implications for India as the “Chinese would have reasons to maintain a continuous presence in the region”.

“It would provide them an opportunity to collect oceanographic and hydrological data in a legitimate manner. Further,it would also provide an excuse to operate their warships in this area,” says the DNI note.

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Though China claims that it is only trying to meet a growing demand for minerals,the note adds,“the military implications of the move are evident and would need to be monitored by the Indian Navy”.

This analysis has been seconded by the Ministry of External Affairs’ East Asia wing,which called the China application a “worrying development” and asked for legal options to “prevent it”.

However,the MEA’s legal wing has made it clear that there is not much India can do as China has proposed the “exploratory activities” beyond the national jurisdiction of any State.

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A day after China got the go-ahead,an inter-ministerial panel decided that India would approach the ISA’s Legal & Technical Commission to ensure that adequate safeguards were incorporated in the licence and activities are carried out in accordance with the contract.

The State-run China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association had applied for the licence in May last year to explore for polymetallic sulphides in the Southwest Indian Ridge. It would now be required to sign a contract with the ISA,allowing it to explore up to 10,000 sq km over the next 15 years in line with the new rules on polymetallic sulphides adopted by the ISA last year.

China,which has ratified the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention and is an ISA member,has been active in deep sea exploration since 2002 when it launched a programme that included developing an active diving submersible,‘The Jiaolong’,designed for a maximum depth of 7,000 metres.

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The Jiaolong is currently diving at a site between Hawaii and the North America mainland,where China was granted rights to explore for minerals in 2001.

Although Chinese officials say The Jiaolong is for civilian use only,foreign military experts say such a craft could be used to intercept or sever undersea communications cables,to retrieve foreign weaponry on the ocean floor,or to repair or rescue naval submarines.

The ISA’s current contractors comprise six companies and the governments of India and South Korea which hold licences to explore polymetallic nodules in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone.

First published on: 31-07-2011 at 02:12:01 am
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